FM Lapid calls for interrogation of former minister over Pegasus scandal

February 8, 2022 by Gil Tanenbaum - TPS
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Foreign Minister and co-Prime Minister Yair Lapid has made it clear who should take the brunt of the blame for the use of the Pegasus spyware to track Israeli citizens by Israel’s police– the previous Likud government and former Minister of Public Security from the Likud Party Amir Ohana in particular.

Amir Ohana Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

According to revelations made by Israel’s Calcalist financial daily, the Israel Police has been using the Pegasus spyware, which is produced by Israeli cyber security company NSO Group, to remotely hack into the phones of Israeli citizens without the use of proper search or tapping orders from a court. The operations were carried out by the Special Operations Team in the police Signet cyber unit, whose activities are secret. And the list of people who have been under surveillance continues to grow and reads like a who’s who of Israeli politics and media.

On Monday, Omer Barlev, Israel’s current Minister of Public Security from the Labor Party, announced plans for a government inquiry into the matter. “Let it be clear, the committee, governmental or state, will investigate not only what has been published, but also what has not yet been published,” said Barlev. “We will examine whether political elements were behind the hacking into the phones of Ganz, Saar and other politicians.”

Barlev also declared his commitment to “eradicate corruption and preserve democracy.”

Yair Lapid had some tough words in response to the announcement when he addressed a meeting of his Yesh Atid Party faction.

“I want to say something less popular, or less populist about the Pegasus affair and the Israeli police,” Lapid told his fellow MKS. “If the police break apart, only the criminals will be happy. As we sit here, thousands of police officers across the country are protecting our lives, our property and Israel’s security. We do not have any more police and so we need to keep them.”

Lapid added, however, that he expects law enforcement officials to be the most diligent people in the observance of the laws. “No one is immune from examination and interrogation,” he said. “This is a serious affair that obscures Israeli democracy.”

Lapid said that he wanted to emphasize, ahead of any political spin being made, “The first interrogee of the commission of inquiry should be [former Minister of Internal Security] Amir Ohana. There is such a thing as ministerial responsibility. It happened on their [the previous government] shift. They need to give answers to the public.”

The statements were clearly a shot across the bow of the Likud Party and its leader, leader of the opposition and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu led the government when the police first initiated the surveillance program. Yet, the former Prime Minister has used the scandal as a basis to call for a mistrial in his current corruption trial and has also made claims that an illegal surveillance campaign was targeted against him personally.

For his part, Amir Ohana tweeted out an attack on Lapid. He called the Foreign Minister a “hollow replacement scarecrow.” In Hebrew, this was a play on words for Lapid’s designation as replacement or co-prime minister.

“I have no problem being the first to stand up for questioning because I have nothing to hide,” he added. “Let’s both go to the polygraph!” he declared implying that Lapid has more to hide over the Pegasus affair than he does.

Earlier in the day, Ohana declared, “This is what a police state looks like.”

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